Greetings all, and Happy Friday!
Massive storm front approaching Atlanta and will arrive right in time for the evening commute – great way to start the weekend, especially when drivers here seem to have nervous breakdowns when the weather is anything other than fine and sunny.
Over the past couple of weeks, BSHQ has seen quite a few discussions on tax – it's tax time here and folks are approaching the deadline to file with varying emotions (me: "yay, a little refund!"; Kendra "ARRRRGGGHHHH!!!! I OWE THEM MONEY?????").
We should all move to Pakistan, where barely one percent of people pay any income tax at all. Yes, ONE percent. Why? Well because they can get away with it, thanks to a combination of corruption, a crumbling collection system, and the ability to pretty much "disappear" off the taxman's books.
Here's where it gets interesting. Among the country's weapons to battle tax avoiders, transgender collectors. In a country where you can be sentenced to death for blasphemy, the government sends transgender men out to embarrass people into paying up.
Armed with lipstick, attitude and a secret weapon ("pay or tomorrow six of us will come back and dance and sing outside your door"), they wander from errant citizen to errant citizen trying to collect.
Regular CNN freelancer Nick Paton Walsh is in Pakistan and filed a fascinating piece about this quite frankly bizarre tactic, but we had more questions so we debriefed with him earlier.
Also today, I've been hearing some pretty good, rather terrible and laugh out loud funny Matthew Chance impersonations. Matt sent in some classic BackStory material which has had the folks around here both fascinated and in hysterics.
Emily has been filling in for Ann and I've heard constant giggles and "oh my goodness's" from my left.
What's the story? Well, the main part is Matthew and crew getting exclusive access to one of Russia's biggest and most powerful icebreakers, the Yamal, for a report on how the Arctic oceans are becoming more and more accessible for ship transport and exploration, partly because of global warming.
Of course, it's a double edged sword – on the one hand, transport ships being able to cross the arctic seas is a massive shortcut, making their journeys shorter, cheaper and less damaging to the environment (ie less fuel used).
On the other hand, many folks are worried that oil and gas fields will become more accessible too, and the environmental impact on a fragile part of the planet will be compromised.
Matt's story is great, and his BackStory fascinating as he shows us around the Yamal, which began life as an icebreaker, was transformed into a cruise ship and then moved back into its original role.
But, the gang tells me (I haven't yet seen it) his other BackStory is the highlight. Before Matthew and the crew got to the icebreaker, a delay meant they had to spend the night in a place called Kandalaksha in a Soviet era hotel.
Put it this way, it was no Four Seasons. Matthew was wide eyed as he encountered all manner of strange gadgets – and Matthew's been around. Him being wide eyed is not the norm! The amusing part is Matthew being astonished while his Russian crew were all "meh. No biggie. We used to see this stuff all the time."
Hence the Matthew impersonations around BSHQ.
Right now Matthew is on a train headed to some big scoop and emailing Vickie constantly, worried that everyone being so enamored with his piece means he's gone too far.
Hope you can join us for our Friday show!
From Michael Holmes, CNN
CNN Investigations Unit correspondent Amber Lyon got more than a story when she visited Bahrain recently – she and her crew had the experience of being forced to the ground with automatic weapons pointed at their heads.
Amber and team were there working on a documentary which included telling the story of Bahrain's ongoing crackdown on pro reform protesters. Here’s her report, our chat with her about her experience and what’s going on in Bahrain.
Posted by Back|Story staff, CNN
Michael Holmes has decades of experience reporting from inside some of the world's most important events of his generation. CNN U.S. asked him to speak about the lifestyle it takes to do such a, sometimes dangerous, job. We'll let Michael do the talking here. Take a look at the video above.